Getting Smarter About Your Food


The discussion about eating organically has been in and out of the spot light, especially recently because of the GMO conversations. We’ll leave the GMO issue for another time and focus specifically on shopping for and eating organically. Whether you are an aged foodie or new to the idea of eating more healthfully, the information about food and health is dense, conflicting and vast. But rest assured that eating well doesn’t need to be complicated.

One fact that is hard to refute is you are what you eat. Sounds cliché but it may be one of the most powerful statements you will consider in regards to your health. Red blood cells are replaced about every 120 days. Stomach lining cells are replaced in 2 days and skin cells every 2-4 weeks so your body is continually rebuilding itself. Energy is neither created nor destroyed so those new cells are built from the raw materials in the food you eat. You and your cells will become what you eat. If you put water in your tank, your car won’t run.

A Brief Look at Organics

There are various detailed and legal definitions of the term “organic”. Generally speaking organic foods are those grown without the use of synthetic pesticides, chemical fertilizers and from seed that are not genetically modified. Although outlooks vary, common reasons for choosing organics are health and environmental factors and/or an opposition to laboratory derived, sometimes carcinogenic, additives.

Buy Smart

Regardless of your inspiration for eating organically, acquiring and paying for organic and healthy food is more likely the stumbling block than deciding to eat organically. According to Natural News, Americans spend nearly 23% of their grocery dollars on processed foods (read: in a box or package), up from ~11% in 1982. Let’s now make the distinction between unprocessed and organic foods. Organic lollipops are still processed but are composed of ingredients that have been organically derived. A tomato is unprocessed but can be found organically grown or conventionally (with use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers). Your health improves when your diet is comprised of minimally processed foods. Applying this information to buying habits means first, choosing more groceries that are not processed. In this case, you are paying for its cultivation, harvesting and transportation, not the processing, undesirable additives and packaging. Secondly with regards to organics, it means buying organic with those items that are highly sprayed (known as the “dirty dozen“) and saving money by choosing conventionally grown items on the “clean 15” list. The Environmental Working Group created the lists after studying levels of pesticides in produce. They noted that

Certain types of organic produce can reduce the amount of toxins you consume on a daily basis by as much as 80 percent.

Grow It

It’s a myth that you need tons of space or time to grow your own food. All you need are a few pots, some seeds, and soil. If you have the pots and dig the soil from your yard, the only expense is the seed. Even a poorly tended $2.00 pack of tomato or lettuce seeds yields many times the quantity of tomatoes and salad that $2.00 can buy. If you’re really lacking a green thumb, focus on herbs. They’re nearly impossible to kill and expensively bought from a grocery store.

Buy Local

No, its not just trendy. It’s empowering to know the farmer who grew your food. You can ask the grower directly what, if any, chemicals were used. It’s also smart. Support your local farmer and he or she will support your local businesses. Plus, the food is harvested just before you buy it. It hasn’t been prematurely picked, sprayed and shipped across the country.

Don’t Underestimate Your Freezer

Couponing is also more than trendy and organic brands have coupons – they just aren’t generally in the sunday clipper. They are more likely found on the company’s website. Focus on items with coupons which can be frozen. When organic chicken is on sale or your garden produces more than you can eat, freeze it!

Understanding Ingredients and Why You Should Never ‘Diet’

The philosophy of “if you can’t pronounce it, don’t eat it” may seem extreme but it makes a powerful statement about what society considers to be food. Read this Food Matters article on food additives if you want to be shocked about ingredients (think aspartame, high fructose corn syrup, red #40, etc.) that you’ve definitely seen on a label. Many preservatives and additives used in the United States have been banned in other countries raising concern about the credibility of the FDA. Most diet foods are highly processed and filled with ingredients that are questionable or have been proven to have negative health effects. Though counter intuitive, most products advertised for dieting have nasty additives and are actually devoid of wholesome nutrients found in raw, unadulterated, earth growth foods. Quit your diet and start eating. Eat nutritious foods and let the bad habits (Wendy’s and snickers) fall away.

In earlier times, all food was grown organically by default. With industrialization and technological advances, more energy, time and money is spent on developing and using chemicals for a wide array of applications. On this topic, an interesting piece of history:

After the war the government had found itself with a tremendous surplus of ammonium nitrate, the principal ingredient in the making of explosives. Ammonium nitrate also happens to be an excellent source of nitrogen for plants. Serious thought was given to spraying America’s forests with the surplus chemical, to help out the timber industry. But agronomists in the Department of Agriculture had a better idea: Spread the ammonium nitrate on farmland as fertilizer. The chemical fertilizer industry (along with that of pesticides, which are based on poison gases developed for the war) is the product of the government’s effort to convert its war machine to peacetime purposes. As the Indian farmer activist Vandana Shiva says in her speeches, “We’re still eating the leftovers of World War II.

–Michael Pollan, The Omnivore’s Dilemma (2006), p. 41

Whereas even in the 1940’s most food, cosmetic and household items contained mostly recognizably earth-created ingredients, today labels are largely unpronounceable to most consumers. Although the names of chemicals and fertilizers aren’t listed in the ingredients, if they’re used in the growing process, they are most certainly in the food as well.

Don’t Be Overwhelmed

Many people report that they want to eat more healthfully and perhaps organically but feel inundated with conflicting information and are worried about the expense. Don’t let being overwhelmed cause you to give up completely and rely on unhealthy, processed foods packed with undesirable additives. Start the challenge by first making an effort to read ingredients before you put anything in your cart and remember to buy the “Dirty Dozen ” organically grown. The Environmental Working Group noted that:

The fruits and vegetables on “The Dirty Dozen” list, when conventionally grown, tested positive for at least 47 different chemicals, with some testing positive for as many as 67.

If the food budget is causing stress, go basic, rather than processed. Rice and beans and cheese with anything green on the side offers an inexpensive, wholesome alternative to a boxed dinner. A box of Kraft Mac and Cheese, for example, has over 35 ingredients. In a pinch, choose inexpensive, unprocessed ingredients, rather than a prepackaged meal. Deciding to “go 100% organic” is a painstaking endeavor in today’s world but taking an educated and conscientious approach to food will undoubtedly help you lead a healthier life.

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Crissey Hewitt